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An American-Russian Dialogue 2

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Some Bulgarian anthropologist, whose name I cannot remember, told me that there is a very rudimentary principle of anthropology that explains this notion that anyone who gets rich must be stealing.

He said that it is a lag in adjustment from an agrarian to a capitalist society. In an agrarian society, no one can make more money than the productivity of their land will allow. The land can only yield so much, and that's how rich the farmer can get. If you want to make more, you have to plow rows onto your neighbor's land (as in "Romeo und Julia auf dem Dorfe"), steal, engage in usury, or otherwise cheat people. That was the theory, anyway. In an agrarian society, wealth is more of a zero-sum game.

Things are completely different under capitalism. In that system, there is as much wealth as there is money changing hands. A person sells something, puts the money in his bank account, the money is lent out to someone else who uses it to make money, and it goes on and on. Multiple people can get rich from the same dollar, if it keeps circulating, and the cycle can get larger. Wealth is limited only to one's ability to attract money and invest it wisely.

The anthropologist claimed that in some societies (like in Eastern Europe), the old fashioned agrarian view of wealth remains after capitalism has made it obsolete, and this is why you get East Europeans who can't believe that an honest entrepreneur is not stealing.

Former residents of Russia and Ukraine have a special problem, I think, that will cause them trouble in their development. That is that they keep everything a secret -- even things that are perfectly innocent. I know why they do this, but times have changed, and the habit is dysfunctional in a free society. A woman I know dated a Russian man for a while, and one day he came over and showed her a magnificent art book he'd bought. She remarked, "This is really beautiful! Where did you get it?" The Russian barked, "I THINK THIS IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!" Sometimes Russians I know will want my help with some problem, but they won't tell me what the problem is. Their need for secrecy overrides their need for help.

Elena from Novorossysk, Russia:
Well, I guess that's only part of the mentality, and it's more complex than this (though Russians as one my friends says are notorious for 'always complicating things. However considering the huge amounts of money that American shrinks earn, it seems not everything is sanitized in this free society in terms of envy, jealousy, bad-wishing, creating secrects...

And I also hate stereotyped perceptions, but people will always use old and create new stereotypes, it really easies the thinking process.. Can I bring a bit of psychology here? I quote I love from my course-book on public relations, (nothing new of course but very sober and articulate):

"When a number of people have a mixture of values, beliefs, perceptions, objectives, attitudes and opinions on a particular issue it is almost certain to generate some conflict, similar situation concerning feelings occurs within people, creating inner conflict. This is important because we cannot negotiate -- or interact -- effectively if we are not convinced in ourselves about what we are doing. One way of reducing this inner conflict is by only accepting information which supports our beliefs and attitudes. We do this because we want to feel that our attitude system is in balance. We can then hold that our attitudes are consistent. For most of us, it is important not to hold inconsistent sets of ideas. Because we find it difficult to live with conflicting ideas people go to great lengths to reduce or get rid of them. We are motivated not to be right, but to believe that we are right (i.e. wise, decent, and good). People are recognised to be rationalising creatures but it can cause us problems. How do people rationalise it? One way of reducing inner conflict is by stereotyping. This can be described as carrying around pictures in our heads that distort our perceptions of other people. Stereotyping means holding judgments which we universally apply to groups or individuals regardless of evidence, for example:

  • "All my family have smoked and lived to an old age."
  • "Scots are mean."
  • "Those with disabilities do get fairly treated."
  • "Women are emotional."
  • "One of John's ideas? Well, we can forget that one straight away."
  • etc." End of Quote

    Anyhow, knowing the demon's face it's much easier for me to deal with stereotyping without generating unnecessary conflicts, tho' I've still a long way to go.

    However a little controversy is the very essence of an interesting discussion, that's true. I'd love to continue it.

    I love a passage from Oscar Wilde on a dispute which the author believed should be a nice and elegant sword-play instead of a violent fight with spilled blood. I don't remember the exact quote If interested I'll try to find it, it's from De Profundis, I've recently found an edition in English.
  • Author: Torsten Daerr